Ron found himself in the middle of a deserted British street. The cobblestones underneath his feet were welcoming to him. He had missed the feel of solid pavement. For the last few months of his life, he had been hiding in the woods; hunting objects he wasn't even sure existed anymore. He wanted to just give in. He was soaking wet, even though the sky was bone dry. He felt a raindrop slip from his scalp warmly onto his face, and the flash of pouring rain in the woods flashed infront of his eyes.
He took in a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Walking over to the side of the street, he sat down, reflecting on the events that had just unfolded. Hermione's voice was still pleading in his head. Her face still imprinted on his vision. Her beautiful, soft face was contorted into expression so pained, so guilty, that just thinking of it made his heart ache with grief.
"Bloody hell, what have I done?" he muttered, burrying his head in his hands.
There was a shuffling noise of feet near by, and Ron looked up to see a group of rather shady looking characters wandering towards him. His heart sank with fear as he stood up. They were so close he could hear their muttering. He took long, pronounced strides, turning down strange street after strange street, until he heard a deafining cracking noise, and bumped into a wall of people.
"In a hurry mate?" A man with deep blue robes on, and three scraggly yellow teeth was smiling at him, his eyes crackling with suspicion.
"Yeah, actually. I erm- have to go- erm- meet my girlfriend." He spat out, thankful for the semi- smooth lie. His stutters could have been mistaken for coughing afterall, couldn't they? He was soaked to the bone, maybe they would have thought he was cold. After all, it was late November.
"'Sat so mate?" the second-third of the dastardly trio asked, but this time, with no mocking smile on his face. Instead, in the smile's place was a deep, fresh cut that was green with infection. "I would have thought you were just avoiding us."
"Erm- uh- nope," Ron squeaked a bit, his hands shaking, so he shoved them deep into his jumper pockets. "But listen, blokes, as much as I'd like to continue this chat with you, I would also really like to get back to my girlfriend- as she's pregnant and-" a thought of Hermione smiling at him, hands on a bulge where her normally slender stomach was, crossed his mind. He blinked furiously as his insides contorted into guilt ridden knots.
"Oh yeah?" the last man asked. He was repulsively hairy, so much so that one may have assumed he was a werewolf- but Ron had never seen him before, and doubted that he had a drop of canine in him. There was no doubt in Ron's mind that these we the snatchers he had heard about on the radio. These were the bounty hunters that ran around searching for mudbloods. The ones who were desperately searching for Hermione. The one he had to leave. "Well, we don't want to keep you, but can you answer me one thing?"
Ron's heart sank. He knew it was coming. "Sure, mate." Ron muttered, forcing a smile.
"What's your name?" the third man smiled devilishly. The man thought he had Ron. And he almost did, as Ron, out of instinct began to form the sound of an 'R' in his throat. As soon as he realized this, he forced a deep, bone rattling- yet fake, cough into his fist, causing the three men to back off of him a few inches. This gave Ron some much needed breathing room- thinking room.
C'mon Ron, purebloods. Think of all of the adult purebloods you know. It was then that he realized that the title 'blood traitor' wasn't entirely un-true to those of the other side who called the Weasleys this. It took him just a moment too long to "The name is Shunpike. Stan Shunpike." He almost instantly regretted this decision. What was he thinking? Shunpike was on their side they would know....
Flipping through a small red book, the man with three teeth shook his head at the one who Ron had just been speaking to, the leader. Ron thought of his family, of Harry, of Hermione, how much he loved them all. How could he have run from this? This was one of the biggest mistakes he had ever made, and he knew it right away. How could he have been so selfish? And now Hermione would never know, and he would never be able to be there for his best mate in the hardest times he'd ever face. They trusted him, and he let himself think they were pushing him away.
"Okay, mate. Get back to your girlfriend- pureblood, right?"
"Oh, yeah. 'Course," he smiled a bit easier, however, suddenly aware of how sweaty he had become. He thanked Merlin for the fact that he was still visibly wet, so his nerves weren't showing as badly.
"Good for you, man. Breeding the next generation. Just hope he doesn't get that red hair of yours, someone might mistake him for a Weasley," the toothless man laughed.
"Yeah, that is if there are any left after this war. The Dark Lord wants them all dead," piped up the second man, the cut on his face pussed a bit as he let out a wide laugh.
Ron laughed uncomfortably, clenching his fist so that he could feel the skin stretch tensely over his knukles, bones, and tendens. "Yeah, those damn blood traitors," he coughed again.
"Well good luck, out there," the leader grinned, a mischeivous twinkle in his eye. He held out his hand. Ron took it, and gave it a firm shake, all the while his insides crumbling. The trio walked off, laughing and talking about Ron's family. He wanted to shoot curses at their backs, but he knew it would put some kind of suspicion on him, some kind of trace.
When he turned the corner, he looked over his shoulder to make sure that they weren't still there, following in the shadows. Once he had made sure they were gone, he broke into a sprint. He was running, running as fast as he could away from them. Away from his mistake, away from his thoughts. And for a moment, it worked. He ran through the streets of the suburb of London.
He needed to get somewhere no one would know him. He needed to go somewhere no one would be angry with him for leaving his best friends behind, the weight of the world resting on their shoulders. He couldn't return home. The chances that his family would be staying at the Burrow would be slim enough. The chances that his family would eat him alive after finding out that he left his friends in their time of need? Much, much greater.
He ducked into an open pub, where a round, yet very pretty woman was drying glasses behind the counter.
"What can I do you for, hun?" she smiled at him, setting the glass down and letting her weight rest on one hip.
"Uhm- a butterbeer please," Ron sighed, folding his arms on the counter, and laying his arms down on top of them.
"A what?" she asked with a confused grin.
Ron raised his eyebrows. Muggles, he thought. All he needed was a nice tall fire- "Whisky," he finally ordered. After a few moments, she smacked the glass down on the table in front of him. He downed it in seconds. It was then that he realized, he had no muggle money on his person. Today was just not Ron's day.He felt bad about it, but he had to sneak out while she was in the back. The last thing he needed today was to have the muggle aurors, or whatever they were called, called on him.
He wandered down the street, his feet clopping against the cobblestones, thinking about how he would rather die than continue on without his friends. He might as well just avada kedavra himself, for doing what he did. Just as he was wondering if that was even possible- he stopped. An idea popped into his head, and he turned on a dime, and with a loud crack, he was gone.
His lungs were compressed, his stomach was turning, his thougths went all fuzzy, but only for a moment. Then, he was standing by the side of the ocean, smelling the salty air. He walked a few hundred meters up to the door of a small, inviting college in which the lights were on, and he could see movement in the kitchen.
He raised his hand, and knocked gingerly upon the door. It was only a minute or two tops before the wooden door creaked open slowly, his older brother Bill holding a wand straight out, stern-faced and tempermental looking. He squinted at Ron, letting his face, scarred as it was, soften into a look of empathy and confusion. "Ron? Why are you here?"
He had spent weeks laying in bed at Shell Cottage, grieving the loss of his dignity.
Bill and Fleur had tried to revive him on several occasions, tried to bring back the spring in his step, the grin on his face, but nothing seemed to work. He would go days without eating. He felt like a ghost. He would much rather die off and become some spirit than continue on pretending that everything was going to be okay. He was miserable like this.
He had been keeping tabs on his friends, making sure they were all right by reading the Qubbler, the Prophet, and listening to Potter Watch every week. He knew they had to be alive, he would have heard if the opposite was true.
There was a soft tapping on the bedroom door. Ron turned his vision at it just as Fleur entered holding a tray with his lunch on it. "Ronald, I know zat you are not een zee mood to eat, but you must. You 'ave to get out of thees, thees funk zat you are een." Setting the tray down, she sat on the foot of his bed, looking at him in the way that his mother always had when he had gotten sick, or been hexed by one of his brothers.
"Thanks, Fleur," he sighed, stirring the soup over with his spoon, watching the spinach and bits of bread and meat rise and fall in waves. "I'm sorry about putting all this pressure on you and Bill. I just didn't know where else to go," he said, and although he would never admit it his eyes began to water.
"Oh Ronald, you know zat you are always welcome 'ere," she exaulted. She stood up, hugged him briefly and then began to walk towards the door. She stopped for a moment and spun around, reaching into her apron pocket and pulling out a shiny silver object. "Oh, I almost forgot!" she cried, a smile on her face as she looked down at the artifact in her hand. "Zees was een your pants pocket zee night you came 'ere." She tossed the object to Ron, who caught it easily. Fleur then exited the room.
The deluminator. He smiled weakly at it, and drank down his soup in no more than two gulps. He stood up, placing the deluminator in his pajama shirt pocket, and took the tray down to the kitchen, where Fleur and Bill were talking in hushed tones. They stopped immediately upon his enterence.
"Good to see you'e got a bit of you're appetite back, mate," Bill smiled, gesturing to a seat next to him. Fleur placed her sun hat on her head, and exited the house to walk to the shore.
"Thanks, Bill," Ron sighed, plopping down next to bill in a wood chair that looked almost hand-carved.
"So, you wanna' talk about it yet?" Bill asked, pushing the lemon slice that was sitting in hi his tea down, letting it rise, and then repeating the process; all the while keeping a firm lock on Ron's gaze.
"I guess I have to tell you sooner or later, yeah?" The corner of his mouth twitched up as he clicked the deluminator, which did nothing, as all of the lights in the room were already off. Bill nodded, taking a long sip of his tea. "I just felt so empty all the time. So lonely. And I couldn't do anything after the splinching," Ron gestured to his now healed shoulder, "and Harry and Hermione... I thought that they were.."
"Together?" Bill helped the obviously struggling Ron.
"Yeah, and for some reason I couldn't take it."
"It's because you love her, mate. Everyone knows it. Everyone but you and her," Bill laughed, glancing out the window at Fleur. "I was the same way with Fleur. After about a thousand letters to Charlie, he told me to ask her out, and I did. Now look where we are."
"That's... that's not it," Ron scoffed defensively, thinking again of the smiling, pregnant Hermione he had imagined all those weeks ago when he got away from the snatchers.
"If you say so, Ron."
"It's just that, I was beginning to feel transparent. They didn't see me anymore. I was just dead weight. I felt like some ghost. Like Nearly Headless Nick was travelling around with them instead of me. It felt like all we were doing was camping, and you know how much I hate camping. We were just endlessly travelling. Nothing made any sense. We should have been the same people, like we always were, but I was starting to see just how different I was from them. I started to think they didn't want me there anyway. So one night I lost it, and just left. I've wanted to go back since the second I left, but I have no idea how to find them," he looked down at the deliminator clicking it.
"Such is life, little brother. And as for your friends, it will come to you. I know you're meant to be out there with them. You're in so much pain for a reason, they way I see it, it's payment of sorts,"Bill said, standing up and patting his hand on Ron's shoulder. "Now, could you please go take a shower? You aren't in the woods anymore, and you don't need to smell like it."
Smiling, Ron walked out of the living room and up to the bathroom to take a shower.
After he had finished, he sat in his room, clicking the lights on and off with the deluminator until it no longer pleased him, and he placed it back into his jean's pocket.
He lay back, closing his eyes when all of a sudden he heard his name.
He raised an eyebrow and listened for it again, and it came again, from his... pants? He had always thought himself a bit weird... but this was just plain looney.
"Ron," the whisper came again as he pulled out the deluminator. Eyeing it curiously, he clicked it, and as he did a bright white ball floated out of it. He watched it, in awe, as the orb approached him, and sank into him. Suddenly he was warm inside. He knew he had to return, and he knew how.
He stood up, throwing everything he owned that was sitting in his room into the bag that he had stashed under his bed, and ran down the stairs taking them two at a time, deluminator still in hand.
"Bill! Fleur!" He called, sprinting out of the house, to find them sitting on the shore, the cold, grey, water lapping over their feet. They both looked up at Ron, understanding filled all four eyes.
"You found them, didn't you?" Bill questioned.
"Yeah, I did," Ron smiled, leaning down, and kissing Fleur cheek. "Thanks guys, but I have to get there, before it's too late,"
"Au Revoir, Ronald," Fleur smiled at him, as he turned on the spot and with a crack, he was gone.
He appeared on a hill side, and sat in waiting for the pair to show their faces. However, after hours, and hours, they never did. Once the night had envelopped him, he decided that he had somehow missed them and pulled out the deluminator again.
He heard the whisper of his name escaping from it again, but this time recognized the voice as belonging to Hermione. A smile stretched across his face from ear to ear as he clicked the deluminator again and the glowing orb, warm and friendly, reappeared. It floated around his head once, and he watched it until it finally sunk again into his chest.
He stood up, grabbed his rucksack, and turned on the spot with a crack.
After an interesting night in which Ron defeated a piece of Voldemort's soul, a horcrux, he and Harry returned to the tent where Hermione was sleeping softly.
The morning was filled with Hermione's screams. Her anger at Ronald spewed into ever word that she spoke. However, this just made him happier to have come back when he did. Hermione's sensitive temper was one of the things he loved about her.
That night, as they each lay in their separate bunks, Ron slipped out of his, and went to crouch next to Hermione's.
The sound of snow as it padded down softly outside filled the tent. Ron watched her breathe in and out, her small ribcage rising and falling. He leaned over, and brushed a lock of hair out of her face, then kissed the place where it had been. She stirred slightly, but did not wake.
"Sweet dreams, 'Mione," he whispered, his eyes brimming with tears of guilt, thinking of how selfish he had been. "I'll never leave you again. Not even for all the chocolate frogs in the world. I," he lowered his tones so much at the next phrase, he was the only one that could have dreamed to hear it: "I love you."
A tear dripped down his face and splashed onto the ground. Maybe he was nothing more than a misguided ghost right now, but he would be until Voldemort was defeated, so he might as well stay in the company for those he loved.
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